Destination Countryside: Provence, France

Destination Countryside: Provence, France

Away from the throng of beach-goers, away from highbrow galleries, away from the majestic monuments and away from the towering buildings. The eye can see the horizon, the open fields stretch away to it in a myriad of colors, dappled by the light shadows of puffy, unbelievably white clouds sailing serenely above.

The countryside of Provence, France is a magical place to lose yourself.

This is van Gogh country, a touch of simpler times, a return to the innocence and purity of nature. The air is light, clear and crisp.

Provence is renowned for its fields of lavender, but be sure to time your visit for summer when they are in full bloom. There are few sights as that of a purple field swaying in the gentle breeze, each stalk an individual but part of the whole.

There are other fragrant fields as well, and the light perfume of this world wafts pleasantly to lull you. It has given rise to a large perfume industry. A tour of the museum of perfume and a visit to the factories at Molinard, Fragonard and Galimard are great ways to understand the local industry and culture.

The weekly markets are a treasure trove for fresh local produce; if you plan to cook yourself, do not miss them. Bread, cheese and olives are a sure hit. The olive oil is considered among the best available anywhere.

There is never a shortage of places to eat. Formal restaurants and casual bistros abound, catering to all tastes. Avoid busy times to get the best of both service and taste.

Of course, it is France so wine is always part of the equation. The Gigondas and Côteaux d’Aix, are particularly good. Provencale rosé is arguably the best accompaniment to bread and cheese you could try.

Exploring large swathes of countryside might be a challenge in other places but not in Provence. There is a good network of roads, constructed in a way that does not interfere with the character of the region. It is as easily accessible by bicycle as by car.

The Roman empire left its indelible mark on Provence with infrastructure that still stands today. The Pont du Gard aqueduct is worth a visit as are the ancient Roman sites at Orange and Vaison la Romaine.

Lac de Saint Cassien is another huge draw in the summer months. Located just outside Montauroux, it is an idyllic cradle of peace and quiet, perfect for swimming, rowing and fishing.